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“To a Dark Girl” is a poem written by Gwendolyn Bennett. The poem is a piece of the “New Negro Movement” literature which talks about the bravery of the girls who face discrimination due to their “dark” skins. In the poem. The poet is saluting to the little girl who is facing oppression like all the other dark girls.
About the poet
Gwendolyn Bennett was born in 1902 in Texas, USA. She was a poet, author and a journalist. She was a prominent figure during the Harlem Renaissance and talked about the recital discrimination faced by the African-American women. She composed more than 20 poems during her time, including
“To a Dark Girl”.
The poem is written in the lyric form. It consists of 3 quatrains, i.e. each stanza contains 4 lines each.
I love you for your brownness, And the rounded darkness of your breast, I love you for the breaking sadness in your voice And shadows where your wayward eyelids rest.
The poem starts by appreciating the beauty of the dark girl. She expresses her deep appreciation and love for the physical beauty of the girl. She says that she loves her “brownness’ and the darkness of her breasts. The poet also says that she loves the sadness that the girl’s voice holds when she’s speaking and her voice breaks down due to sadness and oppression. The speaker also recognises the sadness in her eyes.
The poem begins as a love letter to all the African-American girls and women. She starts by describing all the things she loves about the girl. She says that she loves her “brownness” , here the brownness is a reference to both her skin complexion and her culture. The poet is proud of the girl’s color and culture. Then she moves on to talk about the rest of her physical features and says that she loves the darkness of the girl’s breasts which is rounded. Rounded could mean soft and smoothness of the skin.
The poet loves the “breaking sadness” of the girl’s voice. This could mean the strain in the girl’s voice due to the oppression that she faces. And the shadows of the eyelids also means the trauma that she has faced in the past and possibly faces even now.
Something of old forgotten queens Lurks in the lithe abandon of your walk And something of the shackled slave Sobs in the rhythm of your talk.
The poet here calls on the past of the black girl. She references the “old forgotten queens” of the dark skinned girl. The speaker says that she has royalty in her ancestry which is present in the way she walks. The “little abandon” of the girl’s stride showcases her rich and royal history. And the way the girl talks and cries brings out the slave ancestors present in her bloodline and lineage of her community.
The reference to the “old forgotten queens” is symbolic of the rich and royal lineage of the African-Americans. The poet says that it is still visible in the way that the girl walks in an unrestrained and bold manner. The next lines refer to the dark history of slaves. This is also a history of the girl and the hurt of those times is still present in the way the girl talks.
Oh, little brown girl, born for sorrow's mate, Keep all you have of queenliness, Forgetting that you once were slave, And let your full lips laugh at Fate!
This stanzas ends on a note of advice to the little girl. The poet tells the girl, who was born to be sad and discriminated against, to keep her characteristics of queens. The poet wants the girl to forget about the slave history and not be shackled by her past anymore. This will allow her to be happy in life and laugh with full lips.
In this stanza the poet directly addresses the little brown girl and tells her to be proud of her rich ancestry and history and be a queen. She should no longer let others treat her with disrespect and racial inequality. She should forget that she was once a slave. Instead of letting that define her, the poet wants the girl to live a happy life and laugh at fate.